These were the facts heading into Saturday's contest in Happy Valley: Northwestern would be playing at Penn State's homecoming (Northwestern is a perennial Homecoming Opponent, forever treated by the Big Ten as the first or second guy Van Damme fights in a Van Damme is kicking everyone's ass montage in one of those infinite Van Damme movies where Van Damme is in an underground fighting tournament for money, for love, for United States foreign policy objectives). Northwestern had played poorly in its first three games. Penn State was undefeated, and now allowed to appear in post-season games. And the Big Ten is a festering cauldron of nonsense football.
What I don't think anyone expected was for Northwestern to flatten Penn State for a decisive 29-6 win on the road. This was Penn State's worst loss at home since getting clobbered by the legendary 2001 Miami Hurricanes team. The Wildcats' defense held Penn State's highly-touted quarterback Christian Hackenberg to 22 completions on 45 attempts for 216 yards. The Lions managed only 50 yards on the ground. By the end of the game, discombobulated Penn State offensive linemen were out of answers and attempted to slam into each other while yelling "WHY ARE YOU BLOCKING YOURSELF." This did not help.
An alternative explanation involves deep-seated subterfuge and hypnosis in what's known as the
Manchurian Blocker theory
Trevor Siemian looked crisper, repeatedly finding a wide-open Dan Vitale moving through the middle of the field, a desolate area abandoned by Penn State defenders. Justin Jackson and Warren Long led the rushing attack, although it was Siemian who cashed in three rushing touchdowns from the one yard-line and should now be referred to as "Touchdown Sneakian." On defense, the story was freshman Anthony Walker who started his first game at linebacker and appeared everywhere on the field at once. He essentially ended the game by scoring on an interception in a tribute to his injured comrade Colin Ellis. Northwestern's defense looked like it could keep the 'Cats in games while the offense rounds into shape.
Myths and legends are much more of a daily part of our lives than we like to imagine. We swim in a sea of apocryphal common knowledge. Our understanding of the world around us is shaped by half-remembered lectures shrouded by daydreams, discredited theories, misinformed relatives, television, and That Great Deceiver Wikipedia. The things we don't just think we know but we know we know are riven with cracks and papered over by over-simplifications, false anecdotes, even outright lies.
I'm sure there are nuanced reasons why the Vanderbilt Athletic Department canceled its series with Northwestern. I'm sure the addition of two new conference teams wreaked havoc with their scheduling. But it's way better to imagine a furious James Franklin angrily clearing his desk of Commodore memorabilia with one sweep of his forearm and shouting CANCEL THEM into a red hotline phone that handles football scheduling emergencies. I've been regularly taunting Vanderbilt for abandoning the series as The Assassination of the Northwestern-Vanderbilt Rivalry by the Coward James Franklin because I strongly believe that any time you get a chance to make fun of someone for ducking Northwestern and you have a high-powered and influential blog like this one you take it.
I've recently learned that certain corners of the
internet refer to Franklin as "CJF," which stands
for Coach James Franklin. I really like how "Coach"
is an honorific title like Lord Palmerston or
Captain Cook or Chairman Kaga
In any event, Northwestern traveled to Happy Valley and unexpectedly ruined their Homecoming festivities, which is close to the platonic ideal of a Northwestern road victory. The win also jolted the Big Ten, which has been usurped by chaos and uncertainty as these flailing programs start to play each other. The conference in the midst of a Carnival season, where boring agents of stability and order have fallen apart and no one knows if any of these teams is actually decent. Only Nebraska remains unbeaten. Ohio State lost a Heisman-caliber quarterback. Michigan is so bad that its students are staging literal demonstrations against the athletic director.
Legend has it that a campus screening of a football-related opera ignited a fervor
amongst Michigan students who took to the quad demanding independence from
their athletic director Dave Brandon. Brandon, the former CEO of Domino's Pizza,
remained defiant, and as of press time was constructing a balcony that could be
used to taunt protesting students while preparing to advance on the crowd with his
personal elite noid guard
Northwestern might be ok enough to win games in the Big Ten West. Four
more wins might be possible. Everything is up for grabs.
What is certain is that Wisconsin is among the best teams in the Big Ten. The Badgers' sole loss was to Les Miles's LSU team from the Invincible SEC West filled with teams that can only be defeated by other SEC West teams much like how Highlanders can only chop off each others' heads.
Nick Saban celebrates a 2013 win over Texas A&M on the roof of
A&M's Department of 1980s Production Values
This year's Wisconsin team wins games by doing the same Wisconsin shit they have been doing since time immemorial. They have a stable of a stable of excellent running backs led by Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon running behind giants. With Joel Stave out, Wisconsin has gone Full Wisconsin and started converted safety Tanner McEvoy at quarterback. There are few certainties in this world, and it is a comfort to know that Wisconsin is still Wisconsinning at people nearly 20 years after the reign of terror perpetuated by Ron Dayne.
Northwestern put up a stellar defensive effort against Penn State, but Wisconsin will be a far tougher challenge. The Penn State offensive line had been a concern all year while the Wisconsin line is an anthropomorphic ozone layer. If two Wisconsin linemen accidentally block each other, the result would be a seismic calamity orders of magnitude beyond a catastrophic Jump Around mishap. Gordon himself will give the Wildcat defenders fits if he gets any space. Certainly, Wisconsin is one of the most difficult matchups left on Northwestern's schedule. Even at home, Ryan Field will be at least half full of Wisconsin fans braying at Siemian.
At least Wisconsin will not be bringing this abominable Terror Badger to horrify
petrified spectators and unsuspecting Evanston residents on the second floor of
As excited as we were by last week's romp at Penn State, the Badgers will be heavy favorites. The Badgers have designs on a Big Ten Championship. As we all know, though, the true Big Ten Champion this season is Chaos.
LET US BECOME UNREASONABLY CONFIDENT
Which Northwestern team is the real Northwestern team? Is it the team that looked lost during the first half against Cal and in disarray against Northern Illinois? Is it the team that failed to pulverize Western Illinois to a satisfactory pulp? Or it the team that shut down Penn State's offense and sent thousands of disappointed Nittany Lion fans home to their Unhappy Mountains in the fourth quarter and frustrated the James Franklin, the Apocryphal Dodger? There is no doubt that the Wildcats can match up in the post-Big Ten Big Ten. There is no doubt that the Badgers have a very good team that views Northwestern as a stepping stone to the conference championship game. And there is no doubt that, if the game is close, we'll only be able to see if this is a new Northwestern team by how completely and utterly insane things will get in the fourth quarter starting at a baseline Northwestern Football Fourth Quarter Chaos Scale that starts at major natural disaster, reaches a middle of expected Godzilla attack, crescendos into unexpected Godzilla attack, and tops out at 2013 Northwestern vs. Nebraska.